My story of Shambhala is two-fold, so bear with me; I get all romantic for a beautiful story and I’d love to unravel this one for you.
My bags were filled to the brim with neon, sparkles and what some of my friends would simply deem “hippie-shit“, our car was overflowing with camping gear ranging from coolers to tents down to folding chairs and for the second time in three weeks, I was standing in my living room, staring at our four cats and debating between Spirit Hoods for the weekend. Set plush against part of the Salmo River, Shambhala Music Festival stands as a centerpiece of Canada’s blossoming, and bassheavy, EDM culture. For the past 17 years, they’ve hosted international stars and fan favorites like Bassnectar, Excision, Danny Byrd, Mark Farina, Justin Martin, Datsik, Ill.Gates and Griz – just to name a small handful of this weekend’s talent. After all I’ve heard about the weekend, I was beyond honored when The Confluence reached out to me about covering the festival- and doubly ecstatic that my hat trick of a human (best friend, photographer and boyfriend) could join me for this journey.
For anyone that knows either one of us, it shouldn’t be any surprise that when we collaborate our creative talents catalyze each other – so whether it’s in every day life, or at a concert or festival, we’re attuned to making amazing happen together. It’s a phenomenon started with our friendship years ago and you could basically say that both of our lives revolve around our unabashed love of music. We met after the last EDC in Los Angeles in 2010 when my housemates and I had a rockin’ afterparty for a few of our college friends; after a few years of casually kicking it – we finally got to know each other, and friendship blossomed while we were both in other relationships. At the time, I was rekindling a relationship with my ex who had just been diagnosed with BiPolar 1, and he was leaving a relationship where his ex had OCD. It takes a strong person to be in a relationship like we were, and having a shoulder to lean on when I felt down was one of the best platonic feelings of understanding I’d ever had. Which got me to thinking: the most wonderful romantic relationships are born within the idea of true friendship; there’s a special kind of relationship that’s cultivated when you’re finally discovering how to love yourself. Life drifted us apart over time, but as 2013 came around we were back in each others lives.
As I danced in the New Year in 2013, I got a text from him – in typical Danny fashion – boasting “Make this year amazing!”. Out of a friendship, a bold new romantic relationship was forming – but finally, for each of us, it was a relationship that allowed us to be an unabashed version of ourselves instead of tip-toeing around the other person’s mental state. It was a breath of fresh air, it was beautiful. Almost all of my nights were filled with laughter and adventure, and by the time we went to Lightning in a Bottle last Summer we realized it was more than your average relationship: it was love. And we professed it at the top of our lungs to anyone and everyone who could hear.
Over the last year, we’ve been each others rocks, our shoulders to lean on, each other’s confidant and best friend; and now, thanks to my work writing for The DJ List – we’re an official team professionally, as well. Between his amazing eye for beauty and my passion for the pursuit of a good story, we’ve been on the prowl to capture the best and brightest shows and have been blessed with opportunities to cover class acts like Armin van Buuren, The Lucent Dossier Experience, Cosmic Gate, Autograf, Seven Lions, Krewella and Markus Schulz. Not to mention, some of the hottest festivals on the West Coast like Sea of Dreams, Lightning in a Bottle, Global Dance Festival: Red Rocks; and now, last but most definitely not least, Shambhala Music Festival.
Lights are strung up like stars in the sky, and totems dance to the sorted beats of the Living Room and AMPhitheater stages; it’s Thursday at Shambhala and the “Official” festival is just getting underway. But between the smiling faces skipping between us, glistening with face paint and drunk on laughter – you’d think the party had been going on for days; and if so, you’d be right.
This marked our first international festival but in no way did we feel like outsiders; from the moment we drove down their gravel road, it simply felt like coming home. After parking, we embarked on an epic mission to find a friend from Los Angeles – a mission that endured two days and two nights, and was just as good as his company. Locals gave us priceless looks when we told them how far we’d come to explore their world – and I feel beyond honored that they were more than willing to share their stories. From our neighbors at our campsite to the staff at the Production Office, the Lightning Design Team behind the unparalleled Pagoda Stage and the entertaining side conversations in the food court – everywhere we turned, there were new friends to make and laughs to share.
They say that Shambhala is powered by Shambha-Love; and after a weekend like that, I wholeheartedly believe it. What started as a small gathering of 500 friends on the Ranch 17 years ago has manifested itself into a week long extravaganza of costumes, creativity and camping with 11,000 of your closest, new friends. Since it’s inception, festival go-er’s have been so encapsulated by the environment that they’ve camped out for days to get a prime camping spot; seeing as though camping on the highway can be somewhat unfavorable, Shambhala started opening their gates early to let attendee’s set up shop, familiarize themselves with the grounds and relax a bit before the real party started. Artists that frequent the festival donate their time to the event in volunteer shifts and Almost all of the staff at Shambhala has been attending the festival for years. For the assorted virgin volunteers – they simply couldn’t think of a better first time at the Ranch.
Shambhala is unique on several fronts – and set excellent standards for other festivals to follow. First and foremost, because the event is held on private land almost all of the stages are permanent fixtures maintained year round by private crews, little branches on the larger festival family tree. Each one is catapulted into a unique visual and auditory experience that you just can’t find anywhere else. Between the rich forests, babbling river and epic stages – I couldn’t have been happier with my surroundings. Secondly, there’s no corporate sponsorship. From the artisan market to the food court and even the PK Sound Systems that serenaded the stages, Shambs is full of local vendors rocking to the beat who have nothing but love for the event. And third – it’s a dry event that boasts harm reduction services. In a world where there are hospitalizations left and right at music festivals, the one headline that you’re not hearing from Shambhala: 11,000 Festival Attendants Party Safe in the Forest for 5 Days. When you combine hours of dancing with blistering heat, you’re already paving the way for dehydration and heat stroke; add alcohol, and the results can be deadly. Remove it, and the end result is a glorious microcosm of the world that embraces the unique, the weird, the enlightened, the costumed, the naked, the artists and the beauty of our humanity.
Musical Highlights: Don’t Hate The 808
From Old School House Grooves in the AMPhitheater, boisterous Drum and Bass at the Village, EOTO’s live jam sesh, a hodgepodge of lasers and visual eye candy in the Fractal Forest and a farm-ily gathering during Bassnectar’s set on the Pagoda Stage – you wouldn’t have been able to tell who was headlining the stages, or the individual nights, or even the festival itself. Each artist is given a time to shine, and they more than inspire the crowd to let their freak flags fly. Day Onesie, Caturday – you name it, there were costumes for it and it was wonderful watching each and every person them embrace the weird within. From Thursday through Monday morning, the stages were oozing with talent, as boisterous basslines and salacious symphonies bounced through the trees. Regardless of where you ended up, there was phenomenal music coming concurrently from all six stages – our only regret is that we couldn’t clone ourselves and be at every single one. Now, like parents “don’t have favorites” – I have a hard time picking a favorite stage; I love The Village, Fractal Forest, The Pagoda and The Living Room all for different reasons. The Village is where you can get down and dirty with your bad self to some bass heavy beats, and the Fractal Forest can mesmerize you for days; I love the layout of The Living Room, nestled next to the river bank and the unreal visual experience of the Pagoda stage will simply leave you wanting more.
As the Friday sun came up, the first official day of the festival was underway and attendees were getting down with their bad selves to sounds ranging from SaQi, Marty Carter and the local flavor of the BC Dubcats. As the sun went down, we sauntered back to the car swept up in the magic of the festival; half to change and half to purely enjoy each others company. Like two peas in a pod, we climbed into the front seat of my Subaru and laughed at our adventures from the day. As the moon manifested over the campgrounds and we marinated in the days moments, Danny sat straight up and looked at me with equal parts passion and optimism; looked me eagerly in the eyes and asked me for an answer that love had given me all along. “Will you marry me?” – and of course, I said yes; over, and over, and over again. No ring, no pomp and circumstance – just us, wanting that moment forever.
As we bounded our way back through the festival hand in hand and heart in heart, we were absolutely enthralled by EOTO’s set at The Village. Formed by two members of The String Cheese Incident, EOTO’s known for live musical improv without pre-recoreded loops. We caught a smidgen of their dubstep inspiration – Skream – killin’ it on the main stage as we galavanted over to Lindsay Lowend at the AMPhitheater for a few minutes and were back off to The Village for Subvert. I’d never heard of him until that night but I’ve been hooked on his delicious drum and bass sounds ever since; hat’s more is that he’s the founder of PK Soundsystems, so instead of just DJing – he threw an epic party for the PK crew to everyone’s delight and The Village was the perfect place to host it. Boasting two levels of dance floors that wrap around the stage, The Village’s roster was the place to be for dirty basslines all weekend long.
Surrounded by blacklights, el wire, floating shapes from video games and an eclectic assortment of geometric patterns and lasers, I had my first Griz experience and now I know why he was the few acts, aside from some local favorites and A Tribe Called Red, to be booked twice at the festival. Performing in the tree house of the Fractal Forest could only be described as unreal, and something only the DJs from LIB’s Woogie Stage might be able to understand. Now, Moby; for his assorted talks on Music as Therapy at both LIB and Shambhala, I was expecting something a little more….progressive or emotive from him; instead, he took to the main stage to essentially thump bass and draw out the ravers from other stages. I dig on his music and would love him to come back next year to really perform for the crowd; a little bit of practice what you preach goes a long way in this world.
As we searched for our way back to The Village for Danny Byrd we made a pivotal friendship that forever changed our weekend. Tens of people had walked past, but it took a special personality – donning a furry penguin hat – that caught our attention. After exchanging festival pleasantries, he was just about to point out which direction to turn – only to realize that he’d lost his entire friend group. In surround sound, we both exclaimed “We’re your friends now!” and gleefully headed down the darkened pathway to the best Drum and Bass set I’ve ever heard. Danny Byrd has been a personal favorite of mine for the last five years with albums like Rave Digger and remixes to Zarif’s ‘California’, so when I found out he was playing this weekend I had a fangirl moment or five. Each and every moment of his set was D&B perfection, and they were all his original tracks or mixes.
Dancing my cares away, our new friend Bruce beckoned me over. “I’m a carpenter…” he explained, reaching into his pockets “..and my gift this year was wooden rings; I only have one left and want you guys to have it. I hope it fits.” Eagerly, I tried it on each of my digits; as the wooden ring settled onto my wedding finger, it felt like all the chaos and calamity in the world had manifested itself into the perfect storm. Danny and I exchanged ecstatic glances as we held onto each other, and after slipping the ring off my finger one more time – he dropped to one knee, and in front of my favorite set of the entire weekend – proposed to me again. Needless to say, this was a night – and weekend – for the books.
The next morning, we woke with ease and excitement – in our eyes, today was the big day; today, we’d be getting our dose of Bassnectar that we’d been waiting oh so long for. The day started off nice and easy, with a stellar Hip Hop showcase at The Village with Amp Live, Eligh, Scott Jackson, Sweatshop Union and my personal favorite, Zion I. As the days shenanigans got underway, fans were treated to sets from Breakfluid and The Human Experience; and then, the bass got turned way up. By the time Subvert took the reigns at The Village, I knew my love for that stage was real. I’d never heard of him until that night but I’ve been hooked on his delicious drum and bass sounds ever since; what’s more is that he’s the founder of PK Soundsystems, so instead of just DJing – he threw an epic party for the PK crew to everyone’s delight and The Village was the perfect place to host it. I’ve been told on multiple occasions that he’s one of a handful of artists – like Bassnectar, Griz, Paper Diamond and EOTO, that you should experience live for the first time; so until this weekend, I hadn’t heard anything he’s created and now – I want it all. If it wasn’t for Bassnectar and Beats Antique on the Pagoda stage, we could’ve stayed at The Village for the rest of the night.
The man, the myth, the hair – there’s no mistaking when you’ve caught a Bassnectar set. Somewhere between the crowd that’s overflowing just to catch a glimpse of his signature hair flip and the hundreds of people effectively lost within his music, Bassnectar cultivates more than just a musical following; it’s a full fledged musical experience that rattles your entire body and rightfully so since they even brought in more subs just for his set. I’ve been playing his new album Noise vs Beauty on repeat, but nothing can compare to hearing them on the PK Soundsystem at the Pagoda Stage; between the amazing live visuals and the state of the art projection mapping, the Pagoda Stage crafted an experience unlike any show I’ve ever been to.
I couldn’t imagine having to follow up a Bassnectar set, but What So Not - did it – and they did it big, pulling out all the stops and fresh remixes of fan favorites like ‘Jaguar Trap’ and ‘High You Are.’ Now, considering Flume was booked three times in Los Angeles over the weekend, it didn’t come as much of a shock to me that Emoh Instead rocked the Pagoda Stage solo. Maybe the joke’s in the name and we’re all missing out – I’ve seen What So Not twice, and it was definitely so not what I was expecting. So, call a spade a spade; it was an Emoh Instead DJ set, and it was absolutely phenomenal! He was up there doing his thing – all by his lonesome, so give the man credit where credit is due and don’t dupe your fanbase. For transperancy’s sake, and the fans.
We made it back to The Village just in time to catch my first Paper Diamond set and now that I’ve seen him go back to back with Datsik, I feel slightly spoiled! I’d never seen either one so to see them in a setting like Shambhala where both artists feel so honored to be there, felt like a real blessing. After watching the Pagoda illuminate with lasers, we rushed back to catch an epic set from The M Machine and were pleasantly surprised at the high energy set from the Oscar Wylde, the awesome stage manager for the Pagoda, right before. To end the evening, we roamed around The AMPhitheater to catch some Mark Farina and ended up by The Living Room for Golden Lips of Silence.
Unfortunately, we had to start our caravan back to California early the next day so we had to live vicariously through social media for Sunday’s sets, but it sounds like Odesza, Andy C and Gorgon City held down the fort on Day 3, bringing the 17th annual Shambhala Music Festival to a magical finale on the farm
As with most transformational festivals, the best part of Shambhala for me was the creative community behind it all. Friends, who moved away from home, come back every summer and truly treat the event as a family reunion. As with any family, there will always be some dysfunction – but the 11,000+ attendees of Shambhala put the fun in dysfunction. Their message board on Facebook is one of the most active that I’ve seen, and it’s overflowing with equal amounts Shambhalove and nostalgia as it is suggestions for next year. The amount of litter and trash left behind as the weekend ended was unprecedented according to past attendants; though it was cleaned up by the next weekend, it defintiely left a sour taste in the mouth. Seeing as though there were ample trash cans to toss things away, adopting the Burning Man mantra of ‘Leave No Trace’ or Lightning in a Bottle’s ‘Pack in; pack out’ mentality, or even something as simple as separate – and labeled – bins for trash, compost and recycling would be beneficial to the camp grounds.
Shamble On: Until Next Year
Now that we’re back across the Canadian border in the comfort of our own beds, reminiscing about Shambhala almost seems second nature to me. Between the sweeping hills, foliage rich forests and permanent stages boasting PK Soundsystems, Salmo River Ranch has cemented itself as my favorite festival venue, and the Canadian people – beyond being welcome, gregarious and all too friendly – were a hoot to party with and even better to talk to. For all the friends we made in Canada, we surely hope we can return the favor in some way.
In the wake of such an excellent event, it’s only right that Shambhala starts gearing up for next year’s extravaganza! The festival will be returning to Salmo River Ranch for their 18th year running, and the festival will be held August 5-10, 2015; tickets go on sale November 1st and we can’t wait to have our Farm-ily Reunion. Keep your eyes and ears on The DJ List as well roll out our Facebook album and start getting you pumped for next year.